Crowd Sourcing Design 101

forest for the treea.k.a. How it’s hard to see the forest for all the damned trees!

If you’ve been here before, you’ll notice that this site looks a LOT different than it did before.  Often, when such a dramatic visual change happens on a blog it’s the result of using a new theme.  However, in this case, the theme is the same.   The reason is the image at the top and the background color.   That flexibility is just one of the many reasons Thesis is such a great theme for WordPress blogs.

The new image above is the new crowd source designed logo for Virtual Impax.

Crowd sourcing is a relatively new concept and made possible by the new “social” web.  Graphic design is just ONE area where crowd sourcing is becoming popular – and unfortunately there are many graphic artist who are vehemently opposed to crowd sourcing for design.

Crowd Sourcing Design 101

First, a quick lesson in “crowd sourcing” – in this case crowd sourcing design.

I “crowd sourced” my design by launching a “contest” on the site  The “winner” of the “contest” would be awarded a pre-determined prize – the amount I was willing to pay for the design.  Graphic artists from around the world then submitted more than 100 fantastic designs for my little contest.

When the contest ended, there were 143 designs submitted and had I been running this contest for a client, I would have been happy to show approximately 135 of the submitted logos.

In other words, the quality of work submitted by these designers was really top rate.

So what’s not to love about crowd sourcing design.

As a design consumer – there’s very little not to love about crowd sourcing for design.   The whole process eliminates many of the “uncertainties” around design for the consumer.

As a design consumer, there are two fear based “questions” which seem to be lurking either consciously or subconsciously:

  1. How much will this cost? (ANSWERED by crowd sourcing – the dollar figure is set at the beginning by the client.  There is no fear of going “over budget”.)
  2. Will the graphic artist actually deliver?  (ANSWERED by crowd sourcing – the design is completed and submitted to the contest – there is no worrying whether the designer will take your deposit and you’ll never hear from him/her again.)

So if you’re wondering why crowd sourcing design sites like are so popular – it’s because they help to solve a PROBLEM design customers have..  By using crowd sourcing sites, design consumers fears are assuaged.

Which brings me to why many in the graphic design community feel that crowd sourcing devalue the design industry. Those designers feel that the work done by the graphic artists who were not chosen as “winners” in the contest were asked to work for “free”.

Crowd Sourcing Design is Evil stance

I’ll make no bones about it – the talented designers who entered and whose designs weren’t chosen DID work for free when they submitted their work to my contest.

Working for free is part of getting started in any service based profession.

Whether you’re a graphic artist or an attorney -when you’re selling “nothing but air” – which is what you’re selling when you sell your expertise -when you begin your career you’re caught in a horrible catch 22 where you need to DEMONSTRATE your expertise before someone will pay you to utilize your expertise.  So in order to demonstrate your expertise, you have to have examples of applications where your expertise has been put to use.  The quickest way to get those examples is by working either free or on the cheap. 🙂

Which brings up the one incredible advantage I can see for designers who participate in crowd sourcing: the work they did can still be included in their portfolio to demonstrate their expertise.

Instead of showing a “slim” portfolio, the talented graphic artists who submitted their design can point potential clients to their portfolio on the crowd sourcing site to show their work.   They can point to the specs for the project and their interpretation of the specs.  Other business owners can see what they did and possibly hire them for future projects based upon their portfolio.

Crowd source resources, such as serve as an “introduction” to a designer’s services.   Whether the designer chooses to develop those relationships – well, that’s another matter.

Crowd Source Confession

Earlier, I asked “what’s not to love” about crowd sourcing design – and unfortunately I found it.  During my little foray into crowd sourcing design, I stumbled upon the one thing NOT to love as I perused over 100 talented entries to my design contest….

I needed expert insight to determine which design was “right” for my business.

They were all GREAT designs – but I needed some way to determine which great design was right for MY business.

Because I was standing INSIDE of my company looking out – it was hard for me to see which design submitted “spoke” the essence of the business I’ve spent the better part of two decades building.

So I did what people have been doing since the beginning of time – I asked for input from my clients and colleagues.

The “problem” was that when each client or colleague offered his/her suggestion – my response would be, “Yes, that definitely looks like something [insert name here] would like.”

Truth be told, THAT is the hidden “downside” to crowd sourcing design.  I needed outside expert insight and to be honest, I needed that insight BEFORE I began the contest – not once the contest was up and running.

In launching the contest, I asked total strangers to offer their representation of my business based upon the information I gave.  The problem is, the information I gave was full of “mixed messages” because I’m INSIDE my business looking out.  It’s hard for me to see what others see when they “look inside”.

So when I began my crowd source contest, I made a similar mistake to hundreds of other business owners.  I “thought” I needed a design when in fact, I needed a “brand”.

I didn’t recognize this until the entries started flooding in for the contest.   Then it was too late.

For now – this is the “look” of Virtual Impax – until I decide to invest the time, energy and capital into developing and completing a full fledged business branding exercise.

It turns out, that’s why hiring an outside consultant can be so valuable for a business of ANY size- because it’s really, really hard to see the forest for all the damned trees!!!


  1. Hi Kathy. I haven’t heard of crowd sourcing design before. I’m surprised that as part of the service there isn’t any type of opportunity for a person to envision what message their logo will express. The whole idea of the USP and who is the target market, etc.

    When I hired a graphic designer to design a logo for me that was the first thing we spoke about. Who is my “tribe”? It was like a mini coaching session that revealed so much more than if I had sat down by myself to “think” about it. Funny how the synergy of “thinking” changes when more than one person is involved in the equation.

    Davinas last blog post..Letter from a Proofreader with Edits

  2. Hi Kathy, I like your logo. To me I see direction with fun/humor. don’t know if that’s what you were going for.

    You and I were running contests on at the same time and I ran into the same problem as I asked friends, colleagues and Facebook friends for an opinion. On the first go round, one of my board members who is a consultant for Fortune 500 companies pointed out that a certain designer had captured the warmth and caring that should be a part of my brand. Before his comment I liked the design but was not partial to it.

    I was looking at the designs that looked the “most professional and polished.” The more I looked at the “warm and caring” design, the more it appealed to me as representing a company that will target family caregivers, so I added it to my favorites. Eventually I had a tie between three designs. I chose “warm and caring.”

    I enjoyed the process and I agree with you about the designers working for “free.” It gives them an opportunity to build an impressive resume. It also teaches them to listen to people and pay attention to small details. Some of the designers in my contest did not read the brief and it was quite evident from what they submitted. Any who, I’m pleased and would recommend the process to others.

    Valeries last blog post..Stuck Between Diametrically Opposed Opinions

  3. Well done Kathy and timely too. We’re moving into an age where crowdsourcing will become more and more utilized by businesses with the advent of social media platforms such as Twitter.

    I am seeing more and more opportunities for clients to open doors here or build towards implementing ‘We’ into their model.

    The best, open-minded clients are inching towards this and sense that 5-10 years from now will be very different due in part to crowdsourcing.

    Tim Andrens last blog post..You don’t spell ‘We’ with an ‘I’

  4. Davina,

    You got “additional” guidance by working with a professional graphic artist. One thing “crowd sourcing” removes is that face to face interaction.


    I’m glad you see “fun/humor” in the design above. My mind was so boggled by the end of the process – I just wanted someone else to do it for me and make it go away! 🙂

    Thanks – the fact that crowd sourcing is so “cutting edge” is why I went that direction instead of hiring the graphic artist who designed my book’s cover – and yes, I worry that Richard will be “hurt” if he stops by and sees my “betrayal”… but I felt it was important to give this a whirl.

  5. Oh Kathy, it’s so funny how different people react. I thoroughly enjoyed the contest and couldn’t wait to see new designs and eliminate those that were totally off course.

    BTW, where did the term crowd sourcing originate?

    Valeries last blog post..Stuck Between Diametrically Opposed Opinions

  6. The term “crowd sourcing” refers to the fact that you’re soliciting submissions from the “crowd”. The term is actually BIGGER than just design. Instead of hiring a single contractor to do the job, you post the project and allow anyone to “enter”. The key element being that there is no barrier to entry… anyone can enter – anyone can win.

  7. Its not often these days I click onto a site and spend 30minutes reading – but I just did on yours! This is a great blog for those of us who have fallen into running an online business. I am starting to think that I should start a professional website (NOT the one I linked to here LOL) and starting thinking about branding and graphics etc. I really like the idea of using “crowd sourcing” – though frankly I am amazed at the price that designers charge – given that you can get competent writers for $5/article I really,really wish that I could design !

    I like what you’ve done with thesis too – that’s one decision I have made for the new site , its running on thesis because I am over free themes which work 99% of the way but not 100%!

    Lissies last blog post..A Perfect Passive Income Opportunity?

  8. Kathy says:

    Lissie – WELCOME!!! Glad you found the “straight talk” around here of help!

  9. So I’m going to come off a little harsh at first (as a designer). IMO the logo that you chose is terrible. The gradients are way off. The quickest way that I can pick out an amateur’s work is by looking at their use of gradients. So many beginners go overboard and don’t take into account what a gradient is representing… Light. Where is the light source in your logo. Top righ? Top? Bottom? Bottom Left? I’m not sure.

    The lettering in “irtual” makes me think I need glasses. Why are the arrows there? Why is the sphere there? What are those squares? What is going on with this logo? What is it representing?

    If this was the best one out of 143 then I would hate to see what the others look like. But then again you get what you pay for, right? Why do you think that top companies invest so much into their brand. You don’t see Nike, McDonald’s, or Apple using crowd-sourcing and it’s because they understand that the value of a design goes well beyond what you see. And that a professional, while costing more, is just that… a professional. If you were on trail for murder would you use crowd-sourcing to find a lawyer. Probably not. So the question comes down to value. You value the knowledge that a good lawyer might have, but not what a good designer can do for your brand, company, web presence or business success.

    Six months ago I would have bashed crowd sourcing, but I understand it’s purpose now. It provides amateur designers a spring board into the industry – allows them to think about specs and work with clients. Like you said, it helps them build a portfolio where they may not have been able to otherwise (and I’m all for that). Just don’t mistake that crowd-sourcing will take over the industry.

    In your opening you said that one of the concerns was:
    “Will the graphic artist actually deliver?”
    Well you might have gotten 143 different designs but I doubt they actually delivered a quality product. And this is just my opinion. If you want professional work you go to a professional if you want to save money and don’t mind amateur work (or can’t recognize the difference) then maybe crowd-sourcing is for you. Just be aware of what you’re getting and know that your customers/clients will get that same thing. What does the logo above say to me… no thanks!


  1. […] though I own and can use Adobe Photoshop – I still used crowd sourcing design to create my logo […]